Practicing Medieval Embroidery

In spring 2021, I took a fabulous Medieval Fashion short course online through the University of Glasgow. For my final project, I tried my hand at creating an embroidery piece inspired by extant medieval embroidery examples.

From the gorgeous V&A book, Opus Anglicanum: Masterpieces of English Medieval Embroidery, I selected a photo of a surviving piece of Thomas Becket’s stole.

I based my own design upon this piece and copied the design onto paper by hand.

I then experimented with several methods to transfer the design. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the means to do proper pouncing, so I had to make do.

As the project goal was to create a piece with as much historical integrity as possible, I used Madeira Strand Silk floss from Barnyarns and natural, unbleached linen. (Though I could not afford hand-dyed silk floss, I did try to select colours which would have been possible to create using natural ingredients.) I also used only the embroidery stitches used at the time: couching, underside couching, split stitch and stem stitch.

After working on it intermittently for months, I finally finished it! Not wanting my hours of work to be stashed away in a drawer, I deviated from historical practices by making it into a headband, complete with finger loop woven braids. Overall, I enjoyed the opportunity to learn more about embroidery practices and feel a connection to the ancient craft.